Annual Cedar Key Seafood Festival returns for 42nd year

Published: Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:21 p.m.

All the favorites are coming back to the Cedar Key City Park this weekend for the 42nd Annual Seafood Festival — smoked mullet, clam fritters, fish sandwiches — and, of course, Thelma's Famous Crab Cakes.


Thelma McCain's homemade crab cakes have been a highlight of the Cedar Key Seafood Festival for 30 years. (KAREN VOYLES/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)


42nd Annual Cedar Key Seafood Festival

What: Dozens of local food vendors and more than 250 arts and crafts exhibitors
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, parade is 10 a.m. Saturday
Where: Food vendors and live music in the beachside City Park, arts and crafts along Second Street, parade down Gulf Boulevard to the City Marina
Admission: Free

For the past 30 years, Thelma McCain has been turning out hundreds of crab cakes for the two big festivals on the island city, the art festival in April and the seafood festival, which is held in October and this year returns on Saturday and Sunday.

“I guess people really like them because I already got a call about whether I would have them again this year,” McCain said about her crab cakes at the end of September.

The idea for selling crab cakes at the festivals came from Susie Day, mother-in-law of police chief Virgil Sandlin and McCain's friend for a half century.

McCain said the festival got its start through the Lions Club, but the men in the club needed help drawing people from beyond the city limits.

“It started out with few sack races and the bird dog boat races,” McCain said.

At about that time, McCain, Day and a handful of other women had just started a local Lioness Club with the same goals of the Lions Club — to support local needs, especially for those with sight problems.

This year, organizers are expecting 15,000 visitors to attend the festival, according to Lions Club President Lannie Cardona.

“This festival is a fundraiser for all of the non-profit groups in the community,” Cardona said. “The only organizations allowed to set up a food booth are the nonprofits like the community groups and churches and school organizations.”

McCain said she and other Lioness founders started out offering corn dogs when Day came up with the idea of offering crab cakes.

“And they just took off,” McCain said.

Day's health no longer allows her to participate in the festivals, but McCain is still a fixture in the park, cooking crab cakes as fast as she can for a line that often starts forming around 10 a.m.

Proceeds raised during the festival this year will help pay for the safety patrol to go to Washington D.C., the junior class to put on a prom and the Future Business Leaders of America to attend a conference. McCain said the crab cakes that she will be making will be transformed into glasses, eye appointments and cataract surgery for those unable to afford it otherwise.

This year's festival is also getting a financial boost from Florida Gulf Safe Seafood, a program administered by the Florida Department of Agriculture. This year the program provided the festival with a $2,000 marketing grant to promote seafood that state agriculture officials said is safe to eat.

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